The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) is reported to have supplied Western weapons to Russian neo-Nazis who attacked a village inside Russia on May 22.
A group of some 70 fighters, predominantly made up of ethnic Russians, shocked the Kremlin when they attacked and "completely liberated" the village of Kozinka in Belgorod Oblast, close to the border with Ukraine.
The anti-Kremlin militia claim to have crossed the Ukrainian border into Russia. It was made up of members of the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), which seek to overthrow President Vladimir Putin and “put an end to the Kremlin’s dictatorship”.
The RVC has been identified as a far-right ultra-nationalist paramilitary organisation which launched a separate attack in Russia’s Bryansk region on March 2. It is led by known neo-Nazi Denis Kapustin (aka Nikitin).
During the Belgorod assault, a heavily bearded man wearing RVC insignia was identified as Alexey Levkin by Bellingcat researcher Aric Toler. Levkin co-founded the Russian hardcore far-right group Wotanjugend, which openly praises Adolf Hitler and the New Zealand white supremacist who massacred mosque attendees in Christchurch in 2019.
Another man photographed with RVC symbols is Aleksandr Skachkov, according to Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins. The SBU arrested him in 2020 for publishing the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. Both Skachkov and Levkin have lived in Ukraine for several years.
The Russian Ministry of Defence claims that the partisans have been defeated, and cancelled its counter-terrorism operation on May 23, the Kyiv Independent reported. It is reported that the groups were pushed back to the border.
Kyiv has denied any involvement in the attack. Nevertheless, the military equipment used by the partisans is Western manufactured and has been given to the Ukrainian Armed Forces by the US and other Nato countries, including American M1224 MaxxPro MRAP vehicles and Polish Grot assault rifles, Militant Wire reported.
A recent leak of US intelligence by US airman Jack Teixeira to Discord contains documents that claim Ukraine has backed Russian volunteers with Nato equipment. One document asserted: “Ukraine provides comprehensive support to Russian volunteers ready to liberate Russian territories from President Putin’s tyranny by armed means,” The Guardian reported.
The US has discouraged Ukraine from attacking inside Russia and has tried to ensure that any equipment it gives Ukraine is not used for attacks inside Russia.
US intelligence reports say that Russian volunteers had infiltrated into Bryansk, Kursk and Belgorod oblasts and were planning attacks in March-April in order to seize control over territories and declare newly created states. Ukraine's military intelligence confirmed operations by Russian anti-government groups in the Belgorod region.
Ukrainian intelligence is said to work with the second group, the Freedom of Russia Legion, in conducting sabotage operations, as bne IntelliNews previously reported. Nevertheless, Kyiv denies involvement with the RVC, despite Denis Nikitin claiming the Bryansk attack in March was an order from the Ukrainian government.
Former Russian politician and now opposition figure Ilya Ponomarev, leader of the political wing of the Freedom of Russia Legion, who now lives in exile in Kyiv, told LBC: "At the end of the day, this war can end only in Moscow, when Putin's regime is replaced, and obviously it would not be done by Ukrainians or Naato forces; it will be done by Russians; it's our job."
Around a dozen partisan groups are working with Ukrainian intelligence, according to Volodymyr Zhemchugov, the former commander of a partisan cell in Donbas. Attacks have drastically increased this year, with multiple acts of sabotage on railway lines carrying Russian military equipment making headlines.
Atesh, a partisan group made up of Crimean Tatars, Russians and Ukrainians, claimed in March it had carried out almost 100 successful actions within the Russian army, neutralising dozens of units of military equipment and several railway facilities.
“Spring has begun and a new hunting season for Rashists [slang for pro-war Russians] has begun. We intend to break our own record for the past months and prove our own effectiveness in the fight against the invaders,” the group wrote on Telegram.